U of T now offers some kosher options at UTSG following Hillel UofT’s Kosher Forward Campaign

Jewish diet available at Robarts, Medical Sciences building, Goodmans LLP Café

U of T now offers some kosher options at UTSG following Hillel UofT’s Kosher Forward Campaign

On January 23, Hillel UofT announced the partial success of its Kosher Forward Campaign, which aims to make kosher food options accessible at U of T. Kosher refers to food that is prepared in accordance with traditional Jewish law.

On January 27, U of T Food Services announced that food options that are certified by the Kashruth Council of Canada (COR) as kosher are available at the Grab ‘N’ Go fridge at Robarts Library food court and the Medical Sciences Building. A third location, Goodmans LLP Café, located at the Faculty of Law building, also began to offer kosher options on January 29. Currently, the menu offers COR-certified wraps, sandwiches, and cold salads.

The campaign ran under the leadership of students Sofia Freudenstein and Chaim Grafstein. It involved a public petition, which brought together students, allies, and campus organizations, as well as months of discussion between Hillel UofT and the university. The original petition aimed to establish kosher food options at both food vendors and at residences; the latter has yet to be achieved.

Hillel is a Jewish campus organization with chapters at universities around the world. At U of T, the organization represents 1,000 to 1,500 students.

Food as an accessibility barrier

Hillel UofT Senior Director Rob Nagus wrote to The Varsity about the origin of the campaign: “Noticing a vital need for kosher food options, our Senior Jewish Educator and Campus Rabbi, Rabbi Julia Appel, along with some of our Hillel Student Leaders began conversations with many of our campus partners to explore the best way to move forward with a campaign to address said need.”

Nagus listed the Multi-Faith Centre and the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office as two major partners. “The plan was to gather a broad range of support for our campaign before approaching Administration.”

In a letter dated July 12, 2019, Freudenstein and Grafstein appealed to President Meric Gertler for U of T to live up to its commitment to diversity and inclusion by offering kosher food at the university, similar to how it offers vegetarian, vegan, and Halal options. “We believe the University of Toronto loses much by not providing kosher food,” the letter read.

The two campaign chairs stressed that the unavailability of a kosher option poses an accessibility challenge for Jewish students, who they claim are excluded from enjoying food on residence and on campus. The two urged the administration to follow other Canadian universities that already offer kosher food, lest they lose potential Jewish students to neighbouring schools. It would also relieve the strain that is put onto organizations like Hillel UofT to bear the cost of offering these options.

Aside from the letter, which requested a meeting with the administration, the campaign included a petition form that undergraduate and graduate students, both Jewish and allied, were able to sign to demonstrate support. By the end of its campaign, the petition accumulated over 400 signatures over at least three months.

The university accepts the campaign’s demands

On November 23, the public campaign ended and the petition was sent to the Office of the President. Hillel UofT further requested a meeting to discuss the petition.

On December 19, Hillel UofT members presented their campaign to the U of T administration, as represented by Vice Provost Students Sandy Welsh and Director Ancillary Services Anne McDonald. The university accepted the campaign’s demands on the same day, and committed to making kosher food available in the 2020 winter term. Its January 23 press release reads, “The strength of the partnership between Hillel and the U of T administration is testament to our collective ability to provide to our students with ongoing support and access to the services they need.”

While kosher food is officially available at three St. George locations, Hillel UofT looks forward to expanding the reach of the campaign in the future, possibly to UTM and UTSC. “We will look to reform a long dormant food services committee with the University to address long term solutions for providing greater access to kosher food that will extend to more locations, potentially including UofT’s satellite campuses,” wrote Nagus. “This committee will also address other food equity issues that affect the broader campus community.”

Controversy with the UTGSU

On November 15, Hillel UofT accused the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) of anti-Semitism after the latter’s External Commissioner, Maryssa Barras, expressed hesitation to support the Kosher Forward Campaign due to Hillel’s “pro-Israel” views. The story received widespread media attention in Canada and abroad.

Hillel UofT condemned the UTGSU’s conflation of the accessibility needs of Jewish students with Israeli politics. These tensions follow a previous conflict over the UTGSU’s establishment of a permanent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Committee on Israel, which Hillel had opposed.

Following further discussions between the organizations, the UTGSU apologized for the incident in a November 21 press release. It further announced that Barras had resigned and that it would undergo anti-oppression training.

Hillel UofT responded positively, writing that the UTGSU had “expressed a willingness to bring forward a motion to support the Kosher Forward campaign.” In addition to its apology, the UTGSU “has begun working with Hillel and other Jewish communal organizations to ensure incidents such as this one will never happen again,” Nagus wrote.

At its Annual General Meeting (AGM) in December, the UTGSU held a discussion on anti-Semitism in response to the November controversy. The meeting featured members from Hillel UofT, Independent Jewish Voices UofT, and the Kosher Forward Campaign itself, who offered competing views on the question of anti-Semitism in the UTGSU and Hillel’s representation of Jewish students.

The discussion on anti-Semitism continued on January 27, when the AGM was readjourned due to a failure to meet quorum in December.

UC Lit paid for part of car accident repairs during orientation

Total amount not disclosed, UC Lit president says organization still has a "prudent surplus"

UC Lit paid for part of car accident repairs during orientation

The University College Literary & Athletic Society (UC Lit) used orientation funds to foot a portion of a vehicle accident repair bill, following a single-vehicle crash that occurred during 2019 orientation.

A member of the orientation team was behind the wheel of a rental car when the accident occurred. According to UC Lit President Danielle Stella, due to the “relatively high” cost of the repairs, and because the car was used for orientation-related purposes, it was decided that a portion of the costs would be paid by orientation and the rest by the individual responsible for the accident. The decision was made at an “orientation board meeting in an agreement between the individual involved, the UCLIT, UC Orientation, and UC Administration.”

Stella declined to comment on the specific cost paid by UC Lit because it pertained to the in-camera discussion.

“Council was informed of the decision during an in-camera discussion at our January meeting,” wrote Stella to The Varsity.

The UC Lit Council is made up of core executives, like Stella, as well as executives and representatives from across University College.

“Orientation Board equitably decided that the discussion would be in-camera in order to protect the identity and financial state of the individual involved,” Stella wrote, also noting that all parties involved were “informed properly and agreed upon the decision.”

Stella emphasized that the orientation budget is intended to break even, and that the UC Lit receives money from not only student fees, but also UC and U of T administration. This year’s orientation budget saw a profit and thus, after payment for the vehicle repair, there is still a “prudent surplus” for next year’s orientation. The UC Lit’s 2019 audited financial statements are not yet available on its website.

UC orientation faced controversy in 2017 when it was revealed that financial mismanagement in 2016 resulted in an unpaid invoice for breakfasts, costing $7,200. To remedy this, the UC Lit was forced to remove $8,000 from its contingency fund. In order to rebuild the contingency fund, money for a variety of events, including pub nights and All Night Fung — which offered the Howard Ferguson Dining Hall as a 24-hour study space during exam season — was cut.

Accessibility Services email accidentally reveals 40 students’ names, student numbers, registration

Mistake result of “human error,” recipients asked to “delete and confirm”

Accessibility Services email accidentally reveals 40 students’ names, student numbers, registration

An email sent to students registered with accessibility services on January 10 accidentally included personal information of 40 students in a spreadsheet. The purpose of the email was to inform students that their advisor had changed, but attached to the email was a spreadsheet that included the names, student numbers, emails, and registration status of the students.

Alana Williams, a third-year student studying ecology and evolutionary biology, was one of the students who received the email. She wrote to The Varsity that, while the information was sent mistakenly, the leak of student information is indicative of a greater “general apathy towards students seeking assistance.”

Heather Kelly, Executive Director of Student Life Programs and Services, confirmed that the leak did happen and was the result of “human error.” She wrote in an email to The Varsity that those who received the document were asked to delete it and confirm that they did, but she did not specify how many people received it or how many had confirmed. They also asked the recipients not to copy or share the information.

She added that “Accessibility Services is taking steps to reduce the risk of such errors happening in the future.”

For Williams, the reality of accessing mental health services is informed by her earlier time at U of T — when she received care from Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) before it had merged with Health & Wellness in 2015. Williams credits CAPS for the care and accommodations it provided her, but since coming back to U of T as a mature student, she wrote that “the services provided, or not, for students at health and wellness is horrible.”

The leak of information brought forward by Williams comes just weeks after the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health released its report and recommendations, following nearly a year of student protests over the perceived lack of cohesive and supportive services at U of T.

In an earlier interview with The Varsity, Provost & Vice-President Cheryl Regehr explained the redesign of the current mental health services at U of T that followed nearly six months of task force consultations. However, the university does not have a specific timeline for the redesign according to Regehr: “We are addressing issues as fast as we are able to.”

The task force’s report specifically outlined recommendations that address Williams’ concerns about U of T’s mental health supports, including training for teaching assistants, dons, and other “student leaders,” and more timely access to mental health care. However, in the administration’s response, while streamlining the system was made a priority, no mention was made toward improved training of professors and hired staff.

Lead with Pride conference provides leadership education for LGBTQ+ community

Two-day conference emphasized reconciliation, optimism for new decade

<i>Lead with Pride</i> conference provides leadership education for LGBTQ+ community

The 2020 Lead with Pride student leadership conference took place on January 31 and February 1, with talks emphasizing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, rights for the transgender community, and climate justice.

This year’s theme, “This Decade’s Difference,” focused on creating change in the new decade, as well as acknowledging the change brought by activists in the past. This is the conference’s 11th year running, with roughly 80 people registered.

It was organized by the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office (SGDO), an office meant to address equity and discrimination and to provide workshops, education, support, and resources on sexual and gender diversity for U of T students, staff, and faculty.  The co-chairs wrote in their program that “perhaps the beginning of a new decade can serve as an encouragement for us to look brightly into the future while still holding onto the lessons of the past.”

Cheryl Quan, an organizer of the event, said other leadership conferences on campus, such as the ULead Conference and the Leading Together conference, often do not include LGBTQ+ people or target programs and workshops aimed toward them. Lead With Pride aims to do both, and also to provide people with a network of people in the LGBTQ+ community.

The two-day conference included one day of introductions and a presentation from keynote speaker Seán Kinsella, the Director, the Eighth Fire, at Centennial College, a position created to help the college work toward truth and reconciliation goals. There was also a day of workshops and discussion.

Kinsella’s presentation discussed their experiences as an Indigenous and queer person. The speech also detailed the importance of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and how this can be done.

Introductions included a land acknowledgement from each member of the Organizing Committee, in which members shared their personal relationship to colonization and reconciliation. The committee wrote in the conference program that “it is our collective priority to ensure all conference attendees gain a deeper understanding of our shared histories and contemporary relationships with the land we live, work, and study on.”

Conference leaders emphasized the need for support and optimism in the face of political events in the city throughout 2019, such as the Toronto Climate Strike and the Toronto Public Library’s decision to allow writer Meghan Murphy to speak at one of their branches. Murphy, a writer who runs a blog called Feminist Current, has written that “allowing men to identify as women” is dangerous for women and women’s rights. Murphy was met with hundreds of protestors at the October event held at Toronto Public Library, with the protestors calling Murphy out for transphobia because of her denial of transgender rights.

Leaders also wrote that “climate change is an LGBTQ issue,” as Indigenous and marginalized communities often disproportionately suffer the effects of the climate crisis.

University action plan on student mental health presented at University Affairs Board

Tri-campus review, incidental fees report among discussion items

University action plan on student mental health presented at University Affairs Board

U of T’s University Affairs Board (UAB) met on January 27 to address a three-fold agenda: the final report of the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health, an update on the tri-campus review, and a report on the compulsory non-academic incidental fees.

Recommendations implemented

The meeting was led by Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr as she presented the university’s action plan for implementing the recommendations made by the Presidential & Provostial Task Force on Student Mental Health.

The university’s response to a number of student deaths on campus was centred around the formation of the task force. After a months-long consultation process, the task force released its final report on January 15.

In accordance with its recommendations, the university has put forward a multi-pronged approach to address and improve mental health services, partnerships, physical spaces, campus culture, and financial resources to combat the perceived mental health crisis.

The university has created the Mental Health Services Redesign Team, which will direct the overhaul of U of T’s mental health services. It will be led by former Principal of Woodsworth College, Professor Joseph Desloges, as well as two experts from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH): Dr. Alexia Jaouich, Director of Implementation and Innovation, Provincial System Support Program; and Dr. Sean Kidd, Senior Scientist and Division Chief, Psychology.

The Redesign Team’s mandate is to “create an integrated tri-campus system with one Clinical Director, one website, one consistent approach to wayfinding, one online booking system, one electronic records system, and one institutional letter for accessibility services.” The aim of harmonizing services across campuses and colleges is to ensure a more efficient and accessible system for students to navigate.

On partnerships, the university will build a new partnership with CAMH in order to create “integrated care pathways” for students that use campus-based and CAMH’s services, provide professional development and clinical programs in student mental health for both staff and students, and establish a new initiative to encourage research- and evidence-based solutions for the student mental health crisis.

On physical spaces, the university is committed to review mental health-devoted facilities at the UTM and UTSC campuses. At UTSG, the report notes that, “Planning is already underway to modernize the Health and Wellness Centre in the Koffler building… to keep pace with demand and to provide space better suited to the delivery of services.”

On campus culture, the university found “no conflict between a culture of academic excellence and a culture of caring” — however, it recognized the importance of strengthening the latter. To achieve this, U of T will undertake a “revision of academic programs on best practices in assessment, academic support services and mental health accommodations.” Its goal is to relieve student stress that arises as a result of institutional policies, in recognition of the fact that they act as a barrier to mental wellness. The administration will also ramp up communications with student leaders to promote health literacy and improve student perception of the University Mandated Leave of Absence Policy (UMLAP). Despite calls to repeal the policy, U of T remains committed to communicating its “compassionate intent” to students. The policy allows the university to place students on mandated leave from their studies if their mental health is determined to pose a threat to themselves or others, and sparked protests before its establishment in 2018.

A new Centre for Graduate Mentorship and Supervision will also be established for the School of Graduate Studies.

On financial resources, the university will collaborate with the Division of University Advancement to devote further resources for mental health services and facilities. Mental health and wellness will also be a key priority in the forthcoming 2020–2021 budget.

Both Regehr and President Meric Gertler expressed their gratitude to the task force, faculty, and students who led the way in advancing the discussion on student mental health.

Tri-campus review

Vice-Provost, Students Sandy Welsh presented an update on the tri-campus review. The current tri-campus structure was created by the Tri-Campus Framework in 2002. Since then, the current system has been subject to review.

Towards 2030, a university initiative to ensure long-term institutional success, expressed U of T’s ambition to “create a regional ‘University of Toronto system,’ characterized by three campuses with increasingly strong individual campus identities.” In April 2018, Gertler and Regehr commenced a review process of this system in view of new challenges faced by the tri-campus structure, and also explored how the university can best take advantage of emerging opportunities.

The Tri-Campus Review Steering Committee includes five working groups that have submitted final recommendations as part of the review process: Academic Planning and Academic Change, Graduate Units, Student Services, Administrative Structure, and Budget Relationships. The steering committee will take these recommendations and create a final report of suggestions for consideration by university governance.

Incidental fees reinstated

Welsh also presented the Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees Report for 2019–2020, which lists all of the mandatory student fees for this academic year.

Due to the Student Choice Initiative — the now-quashed provincial directive allowing students to opt out of fees deemed “non-essential” by the province — the fall semester incidental fees were divided between optional and mandatory categories.

The winter semester fees show a return to the status quo, currently listed “as they were prior to the Student Choice Initiative,” wrote Welsh in her report to the UAB.

Only 63 per cent of enrolled political science PhD students have graduated since 2000

Multiple years with over 100 enrolled students saw 10 or fewer graduates from 2000–2019

Only 63 per cent of enrolled political science PhD students have graduated since 2000

Data obtained by The Varsity shows that between 2000–2019, on a combined average only 10.14 per cent of enrolled political science PhD students graduated each year. This is lower than the 2018 average statistic for PhD students at U of T, which stands at 22.17 per cent.

Of the approximately 453 students who were registered in the program from 2000–2019, there have been 284 graduates, resulting in 62.7 per cent of enrolled students graduating over 19 years.

Five years had 10 or fewer graduates, while other years also seem to have disproportionately low numbers of graduates relative to the program’s intake. From 2001–2014, the average rate of enrolled students graduating was 9.57 per cent. Since 2014, the number of graduates per year does seem to be going up, but the average for those years is still only slightly over 10 per cent, at 11.2 per cent.

Jacques Bertrand, Associate Chair and Graduate Director of Political Science, wrote to The Varsity that PhD students in political science rarely leave the program without graduating, though they can take leaves of absence.

Currently, Arts & Science PhD students at U of T pay a yearly tuition of $6,900. Those in the humanities and social sciences receive $17,500 in base funding, set to increase next year. The faculty also launched several programs, such as the Milestones and Pathways programs, which aim to provide academic and practical skills to students.

Bertrand wrote to The Varsity that in his opinion, the amount of graduates seems proportionate when compared to the intake of 25–28 new students per year.

He noted that the average student graduates in six to seven years, even though the timeline on the department’s website only goes up to five years. While graduate students lose department funding after five years, Bertrand noted that there are still other funding opportunities and opportunities within the department.

However, the department is making attempts to lower the graduation time, such as approving student proposals earlier, and it is “hoping these numbers will go down in the next 2-3 years.”

He noted that while the department has had some students graduate close to the cutoff of 10 years, none have ever reached that point, and that “very few students leave the program and don’t finish.” He added that the department is working on ways to provide more support for students.

UTGSU Annual General Meeting addresses safety concerns, debates legitimacy of BDS committee

Motion to condemn Jewish Defense League passed, financial statements approved

UTGSU Annual General Meeting addresses safety concerns, debates legitimacy of BDS committee

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) Annual General Meeting (AGM) was readjourned on January 27 after failing to meet quorum on December 5. It addressed a number of motions pertaining to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) campaign, including a motion by the committee to ban the Jewish Defense League (JDL) from campus and a motion by a member to oppose the BDS committee altogether.

The wider BDS movement lobbies corporations, universities, and local governments to sanction the Israeli government and boycott Israeli goods to protest the country’s occupation of Palestinian territory. Some critics of BDS argue that the movement aims to delegitimize Israeli sovereignty, while others characterize the movement and its leadership as anti-Semitic. Previously, the UTGSU Executive Committee was accused of anti-Semitism when it was hesitant to participate in Hillel UofT’s Kosher Forward campaign — which aimed to bring kosher food options to campus — on the grounds that the group was pro-Israel. This subsequently led to the resignation of External Commissioner Maryssa Barras, a position which has yet to be filled.

Members of the BDS committee explained that the JDL, which the Canadian Anti-Hate Network has called an “anti-Muslim group on the extreme fringe of the Jewish community,” has disrupted BDS events in the past, and remains a safety threat to members of the committee.

As an indicator of the JDL’s threat level, BDS committee members highlighted an instance of violence by the JDL against individuals protesting a November 20 event which featured Israeli Defense Force reservists at York University.

The JDL had put out a call to disrupt the UTGSU AGM; however, no such disruptions took place.

A motion was passed at the meeting that stated that the “UTGSU membership condemns the JDL violence against York University student protestors and their allies on November 20,” and moved that the UTGSU membership put out a call to the U of T administration to ban JDL from campus.

An attempt by a member to amend the motion to not specify JDL, but rather oppose “all terrorist organizations” from campus was rejected by the membership.

The meeting began with a controversial motion by the Chair, Jeremy Rothschild, to strike the discussion on anti-Semitism; the discussion on BD; and the discussion on sanctions, divestment, or boycotts, from the agenda due to the fact that the meeting fell on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He said that members should not have to “relive what their families [experienced] and the sort of discussions that surround the question of anti-Semitism on campus.”

Rothschild felt that the membership as a collective should have the right to decide whether it wanted to engage in such discussions on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The membership rejected Rothschild’s motion to strike the motions, and thus they were kept on the agenda.

However, by the time the AGM arrived at the member’s motion opposing the BDS committee, only six minutes remained in the UTGSU’s booked time for the room. Chaim Katz, the mover, briefly explained his motion, noting that, “This is an opportunity to maintain a stance, of being active in human rights support, but not only singling out the Jewish state,” before the meeting was adjourned.

Internal Commissioner Adam Hill told The Varsity that the unaddressed motions can only be revisited at the next UTGSU AGM. The meeting also saw the UTGSU’s financial statements passed and next auditor approved by the membership.

AGO All Hours

In Photos: An exploration of Chinese identity

AGO All Hours

The AGO’s iconic staircase, lit above the Daydreamer’s Campsite occupying Walker Court. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

A small figurine on a journey through a landscape of trash in Joseph Beuys’ Hasengrab. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

Raymond Boisjoly’s As it Comes. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

U of T alum Sandra Brewster engages with layered identities through photo-based gel transfer in Blur. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

A pair of visitors in motion as they exit the Daydreamer’s Campsite, shot through a gap in the stairwell. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

A plant experienced from an alien perspective, from Today We Reboot the Planet by Adrian Villar Rojas. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

Stinging nettle and jasmine fill a series of planters, lit from above by magenta light, in Hito Steyerl’s Free Plots. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

A group of visitors plays mahjong in the Galleria Italia. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

Stacks of white Chinese tea cups — the type you’d expect to find in a restaurant — prepared for tea tasting. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

This costume head is used during dragon dances at Lunar New Year festivals. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

Tea Base remade the Galleria Italia into a tea shop rallying against gentrification in Chinatown. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

A land acknowledgement by Tea Base. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

The underside of Frank Gehry’s barnacle staircase,
which protrudes from the face of the museum. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY

It’s Still Priviledged Art by Carole Condé and
Karl Beveridge. JADINE NGAN/THE VARSITY